A Genealogue Exclusive [What's That?]With scientists debating whether the Donner Party resorted to cannibalism while crossing the Sierra Nevada in 1846, one genealogist is sure of the answer.
"You bet they did."
Arnold Trafton, a researcher from Butte, Montana, was interviewing Donner descendants at a family reunion recently. Hoping to gain some insights on the family for a forthcoming book on pioneer wagon trains, Trafton learned far more than he had expected.
"About 30 minutes into the reunion, it became clear that the caterer wasn't going to show up. Some of the family started getting restless . . . belligerent, even. They started looking at me in a way that made me very uncomfortable."
Trafton says that one small girl—no more than two to three years old—approached him, curtseyed, and began gnawing on his left leg.
"I screamed, of course. But nobody did anything, not even the kid's parents. They just kept staring at me. I saw that some of them were drooling."
After detaching the child from his calf, Trafton fled from the building, pursued by an octogenarian wielding a salad fork.
"I'm not saying they would have eaten me," says Trafton, "but I strongly suspect it. I'm just lucky that my wife was with me. If I hadn't pushed her to the floor, I don't think they'd have let me out of the room."